Markets in everything

The manufacturing of beautiful Russian women:

Whatever you may say about the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s, it was not widely known for feminine pulchritude. Whatever you may say about women's professional tennis in the 1970s or '80s, it did not feature many players who looked like Maria Sharapova, the latest Australian Open victor.

Where were they all before?

Though this is a fairly frivolous question (OK, extremely frivolous), I am convinced it has an interesting answer. To put it bluntly, in the Soviet Union there was no market for female beauty. No fashion magazines featured beautiful women, since there weren't any fashion magazines. No TV series depended upon beautiful women for high ratings, since there weren't any ratings. There weren't many men rich enough to seek out beautiful women and marry them, and foreign men couldn't get the right sort of visa. There were a few film stars, of course, but some of the most famous—I'm thinking of Lyubov Orlova, alleged to be Stalin's favorite actress—were wholesome and cheerful rather than sultry and stunning. Unusual beauty, like unusual genius, was considered highly suspicious in the Soviet Union and its satellite people's republics.

This doesn't mean there weren't any beautiful women, of course, just that they didn't have the clothes or cosmetics to enhance their looks, and, far more important, they couldn't use their faces to launch international careers. Instead of gracing London drawing rooms, they stayed in Minsk, Omsk, or Alma Ata. Instead of couture, they wore cheap polyester. They could become assembly-line forewomen, Communist Party bosses, even local femmes fatales, but not Vogue cover girls. They didn't even dream of becoming Vogue cover girls, since very few had ever seen an edition of Vogue.